If the Phillies need a closer Monday night, Joaquin Benoit will get the call.
As expected, manager Pete Mackanin removed Jeanmar Gomez from the role one day after he coughed up a three-run lead in the ninth inning of Sunday's game against the Washington Nationals.
Mackanin said he would use Benoit, a 39-year-old veteran of 16 big-league seasons, "for the time being." In other words, he'll have the role as long as he nails down saves or is traded.
In going with Benoit, Mackanin bypassed Hector Neris, who became a shutdown eighth-inning arm for the Phillies last season.
Neris, 27, will stay in that role.
"I don't want to put any unnecessary pressure on Neris for the time being," Mackanin said. "He had such a good year last year and is pretty valuable where he's at right now. He will most likely close at some point in his career. His time will come."
Benoit has pitched in just about every role there is during his career. He broke in as a starter with the Texas Rangers in 2001, moved full-time to the bullpen in 2006 and was a closer, saving 24 games, for Detroit in 2013.
Looking to improve their bullpen, the Phillies signed Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million contract in December. Benoit had been one of the most consistent relievers in baseball the previous seven seasons, posting a 2.40 ERA and a .0.98 WHIP from 2010 to 2016. Though he turns 40 in July, Benoit still throws in the mid-90s. He averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings from 2010 to 2016 and debuted with four strikeouts in his first three innings for the Phillies this season.
Benoit is one of a handful of Phillies players that could be traded as this season unfolds. Teams are always looking for bullpen help around the trade deadline. Pitching well in any bullpen role would help Benoit's value. Racking up a few saves won't hurt.
"I wasn't really expecting it this early, this change," Benoit said. "But it's the situation they have to address. I guess they have their choice and that was me.
"I enjoy being on the mound. I enjoy pitching. I'm not going to break any records. I'm not going to go for Mariano's (Rivera's) record or (Trevor) Hoffman's. I try to give the team an opportunity to get a win. That's what I'm going to try to do here.
"For me I try to make it simple. I'm not trying to make it harder than it is. It's three outs. Sometimes things don't go as well as we want them to. But I approach the game the same way. It doesn't matter if it's in the sixth or the ninth."
Gomez, 29, deserves respect for the job he did last season. When others failed and the Phils were searching to find a dependable closer, he stepped in and recorded 37 saves without the power stuff and high-strikeout octane that most closers possess. His pitch-to-contact style finally caught up with him in September and he lost the closer's job under the weight of an ERA over 19.00 that month.
Coming into spring training this year, Mackanin said Gomez deserved the first crack at the job and he did nothing to lose it in Florida. However, he gave up a two-run home run in the ninth inning on opening day (the Phils survived to win, 4-3) then a three-run homer in squandering a 3-0 lead against Washington on Sunday. The Phils came back to win that game, 4-3, but Mackanin decided it was time to get Gomez out of the pressure cooker. He will likely return to the sixth- and seventh-inning setup role in which he shined in 2015, his first season with the Phillies.